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Site sorts end-of-life wishes

Dear Readers: A young woman of 32, Rosaria Vandenberg, known to friends and family as Za, was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor). She died just seven months after the diagnosis, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter, her ...

Dear Readers: A young woman of 32, Rosaria Vandenberg, known to friends and family as Za, was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor). She died just seven months after the diagnosis, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter, her husband and a large, loving family.

Za spent two months in a hospital. Finally, knowing Za would die, her family fought the health system to let them bring her home. It was only at home that her daughter, Alessia, felt comfortable climbing up on her mother's bed to snuggle, to touch and be touched. Za died the second night she was home, after having opened her eyes for the first time in a week. She saw her daughter and her family and was finally able to let go in the glow of their love.

Za's family is now on a mission. They feel strongly that if they had put written documents in place, if they had discussed what each would want should such an unthinkable situation occur, they would not have had to fight so hard to bring Za home to die.

Since Za's death, they have started the Engage with Grace movement. At the Web site http://engagewithgrace.org , a person can download The One Slide, a simple graphic with five questions. People can answer these questions by assigning each question a rating of one through five. Here are the questions:

1. "Let me die in my own bed, without any medical intervention," which would warrant a No. 1 ranking, all the way to "Don't give up on me no matter what, try any proven and unproven intervention possible," which would warrant a No. 5 ranking.

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2. If there were a choice, would you prefer to die at home or in a hospital?

3. Could a loved one correctly describe how you'd like to be treated in the case of a terminal illness?

4. Is there someone you trust that you've appointed to advocate on your behalf when the time is near?

5. Have you completed any of the following: written a living will, appointed a health care power of attorney or completed an advanced directive?

Readers, I feel blessed that in my family, we were clear about end-of-life wishes. We had plenty of practice. My mother's sister and brother-in-law moved to be with us during their last years. They were vocal and legal about their wishes, and I watched my parents cope with the details of their deaths. My parents then had legal documents drawn up for themselves. We talked easily about these issues because we weren't in denial about the fact that someday each of us would die.

I have mentioned to people that news stories can be a good catalyst for having these talks with family. However, Engage with Grace makes it even easier. By downloading The One Slide, you have something tangible to hand to another person and clear questions to consider. Once you have thought through the questions and placed your answers on the continuum, make sure your loved ones know. Get the legal work done. And pass on a slide to others you care about.

Bursack is the author of "Minding Our Elders," a support book on family elder care, and maintains a Web site at www.mindingourelders.com . To view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at cbursack@forumcomm.com or write her at

The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107

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